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What happened to us? #3 Edge of Sanity and Dan Swano

A classic break-up was the separation of Dan Swano from the rest of Edge of Sanity in 1997. Back then Dan was widely perceived to be the creative force behind Edge of Sanity’s music, if not the undisputed band leader. I remember that when Cryptic came out and Dan was not part of it, it was not received well among me and my friends, and Dan’s absence was the main reason why. Back then I viewed it as an incomplete version of Edge of Sanity, but over the years I have come to appreciate it and now I consider it as one of the best Edge of Sanity albums and definitely one of the top Swedish death metal albums of the late 1990s. A few years later, in 2003, Dan resurrected the band without the other four members and released Crimson II, which is my least favourite album by them.

eos

From left to right: Benny Larsson, Anders Lindberg, Andreas Axelsson, Sami Nerberg, and Dan Swano.

It appears that several factors contributed to the break-up of this legendary line-up responsible for some of the greatest and most innovative albums in the history of death metal. According to an interview with Dan, he was kicked out of the band in 1997. His exit, according to him, was the company’s (Black Mark) decision. From his account of the situation it is unclear why the label had to choose between him and the rest of the band to grant permission to use the name Edge of Sanity. It is implied that him and the rest of the band were two entities by that point, so the label decided to go with the entity that resembled more a functioning band, and that entity was the one with the four musicians on board (Andreas, Sami, Benny and Anders) rather than only Dan. 

I was unable to find official accounts on why by that point the band was split between Dan and the other band members. However, there is plenty of information available to help fill in this gap. First of all, there is evidence to suggest that Dan and the rest of the band had different, potentially conflicting, creative visions and drew inspiration from different genres; Dan from symphonic rock, pop and soft rock, the rest of the band, extreme metal and punk. Both Andreas Axelsson and Dan have made this claim (see here and here respectively) and from Andreas’s account it could be inferred that different creative visions can be a problem. Conflicts based on creative differences have also been implied by Dan, who has argued that the rest of the band refused to incorporate more Gothic rock elements in the band’s style. Sami Nerberg has also suggested that Swano’s departure was a positive thing as the band’s style became more coherent.

The notion that Dan was the leader of the band could have been another cause for conflict among band members. Sami has even insinuated that Dan had taken over the band (read an interview with him here). While this is also the popular sentiment, in another interview Dan does not take credit for the significance/legacy of Edge of Sanity, and explicitly points out that Edge of Sanity’s magic was a collective effort. However, his discourse farther ahead suggests that he does consider himself the quintessential element in Edge of Sanity’s sound. He was indeed bitter about the rest of the band recording Cryptic without him, saying “[Crimson II] was revenge towards the other guys for doing the Cryptic album”, and he goes as far as to describe the latter as “anti-Edge of Sanity”. For him, the legitimate Edge of Sanity vision corresponds to his own, and the Edge of Sanity chapter should be closed accordingly. 

Linked to the previous argument, there is also a chance that Dan and the rest of the band drifted apart over the years because Dan did not think highly of others’ (apart from Benny’s who is objectively a genius) musical skills. I remember reading an interview back in the day on a Greek metal zine on which Dan explained that the reason he played on the songs he composed on Infernal was because the others couldn’t play them properly (if I remember wrong someone could correct me?). This might have been a reason for Sami, Anders and Andreas to dislike Dan.

Dan has also acknowledged that while the rest had always been friends with one another beyond the band, he was an outsider. His association with Sami, Benny, Anders and Andreas, was only in the context of Edge of Sanity, a band that begun as one of his numerous projects. Not being friends outside of the band meant that it was easy for them to drift apart.

It should also be considered that different band members were differentially invested in the band. For example, in the case of Dan, Edge of Sanity was only one thing amongst other important ventures such as his recording studio and his other projects. In a 1996 interview with Andreas on Chronicles of Chaos, the interviewer asks him why the band does not tour much. Andreas’s answer suggests that the reason behind the band’s reluctance to tour was Dan’s job as a studio owner. It could be hypothesised that the rest of the band considered Dan an obstacle to the band’s success.

Finally, we should not ignore that the death metal genre was dying in the late 1990s, and morale was low for many death metal musicians who felt that the potential for money or recognition was limited. For these reasons, maybe Edge of Sanity was not a priority for Dan in the mid-90s. Indeed, recognition seems to be an important consideration for him. On this interview he very eloquently describes his conscious effort to associate his music on Crimson II with the Edge of Sanity “brand”, because it would receive the attention it deserved (in 2003 when death metal was again on the rise), instead of being overlooked under a different, unrecognised, moniker. 

Nevertheless, it looks like Dan and the rest of the band did not end their creative relationship bitterly. Dan has suggested that his decision to resurrect the band back in 2003 was not done against the will of the old band-members, and Andreas argued a few years ago that him and Dan were still good friends. Since the first and second demise of Edge of Sanity, Dan has been involved in numerous bands, either as a producer or as a musician. I thought that the Moontower album was an excellent example of progressive melodic death metal. The Jesusatan album with Infestdead as well as the first album he did with Bloodbath were also ace. Benny Larsson now plays in the death-thrash ensemble Plague Warhead. Andreas remains rotten to the core with his new incredible band, Tormented. Dan, Andreas and Benny released the crust album Total Terror in 2009.



In hindsight: great albums omitted 2010-2014

Since 2010 I have been writing a post at the end of each year accounting for each year’s music offerings. However, as it happens given financial, time-related and other constraints, many great albums often go unnoticed in time for each year’s recount. In this post I will mention some brilliant albums that deserved to be on the five lists that I compiled over the last five years, but were not. Before I get on with this task I will also mention some albums that I heard over the years and, although I would not include them in the best-of list I still enjoyed them a lot.

I consider Foo Fighters to be a very unreliable band. They have released an album that I consider to be a flawless masterpiece (One to one) and then a bunch of albums that I cannot listen to. Their 2012 album, Wasting Light, is an awesome album full of awesome tunes which at times flirt with grunge, at others with garage rock and hard rock. A song like “Dear Rosemary” could have easily been written by Nicke Andersson. Moving on, although not a fan of melodic technical death metal, Gorod‘s A perfect absolution (2012) is a pretty cool album. Fans of the genre will definitely appreciate some excellent riffs and structures that borrow a lot from post-Whisper Supremacy Cryptopsy and post-Goremageddon Aborted, Necrophagist, as well as Atheist, the forefathers of technical death metal. “Sailing into the earth” has some super inventive riffs. The more clean and shouted vocals still make me cringe, but overall this is a good album. Weapons to Hunt is the continuation of Infinited Hate, the band fronted by Aad from Sinister and the former guitarist of Sinister, a death metal genius, Ron. The album they released in 2012 titled Blessed in sin, is an old school death metal monolith, a bit more thrashier than both Sinister and Infinited Hate. Although I think it suffers production-wise (I cannot stand the sound of the drums), it is a great death metal album full of insane riffs that embody the trademark genius of Ron. Dark Tranquility‘s Construct (2013) is another album I eventually liked, but didn’t blow me away. Henriksson’s limited involvement in songwriting is quite apparent, as there is an almost complete lack of fast songs (with the exception of segments on the brilliant “Science of noise” and “Apathetic”). Nevertheless, DT is lucky to have several great songwriters and the result is a very emotional and dark album with some great tunes.

I will now move on to some albums that are marked by pure excellence, but, for various reasons, were left out of each year’s best-of lists:

phpThumb_generated_thumbnailjpg1. Danzig – Deth red sabaoth (2010)

Danzig’s Deth red sabaoth is quite a treat of an album. Although I have been a huge Misfits and Samhain fan for many years I never really got into Danzig’s solo band.  I liked his first album, although I have not listened to it for many years. Many of his other albums sounded boring to me back in the day, but if this album is even slightly representative of them I think I should revisit them. Darkness and heaviness are two things that are not stranger to Danzig, and this album is full of both. At times it reminds of Black Sabbath and Type O Negative, but a much deadlier and sicker version of both. Time has definitely taken its toll on Danzig’s voice, but his songwriting ability is still sublime. I like all of the songs on it, but particularly “Rebel spirits“, “On a wicked night“, “Deth red moon“, and “Left hand rise above“.

enfr2. Enforcer – Diamonds (2010)

Enforcer is probably the leading heavy/power metal band in Sweden’s expanding old-school heavy metal movement. Diamonds, their second album, is a pure masterpiece that I listened only recently and completely blew me away. While their debut album and their third one are closer to the Germanic interpretation of British heavy metal, reminiscent of the faster moments of Accept, Avenger, and early Rage, as well as US power metal, Diamonds is much more pure British heavy metal. On songs like the unbelievable “Katana“, “High roler” and “Diamonds”, the NWOBHM praise is crystal clear. From time to time other influences find their way into their beautiful musicality, such as early Queensryche (on “Running in menace”). On the faster songs the influence of other British bands, like Satan, is also apparent. Everything is perfect about this album; awesome, riffs, awesome choruses, awesome solos, and perfect playing ability by all band-members. An absolute masterpiece.

majes3. Immolation – Majesty and Decay (2010)

When this album came out in 2010 I was slightly disappointed, which is the reason why it was not included in that year’s best-of list. In hindsight, it should have definitely been included. At the time I felt that this album was quite stagnant and did not introduce anything new in the Immolation legacy. The introduction, as well as the fact that it had an instrumental piece near the end pissed me off because I always considered Immolation a no-bullshit kind of band, and I thought that all this filler crap were just gimmicks of lesser bands. I still always skip the intro and the instrumental piece. I also had an issue with the awful drum sound which unfortunately persisted in Immolation’s next album. Immolation always had this swampy and under-produced sound, which I think was very special and integral to their identity. Going from that to the fake triggered sound of this album was disappointing. However, the song-writing is excellent as always. Songs like “A glorious epoch“, “A token of malice“, “Divine code” and “The rapture of ghosts” are up there with the best songs in their career.

morbus-chron-sleepers-in-the-rift-cover4. Morbus Chron – Sleepers in the rift (2011)

The first Morbus Chron album is a masterpiece of Swedish death metal that stands proudly next to giants of the genre, like Entombed and Dismember. Having said that, the references one immediately gets are not necessarily Swedish death metal bands but those bands that Dismember and Entombed drew on back in the day, such as Autopsy and Death. Indeed, there are riffs directly lift off Autopsy’s first couple of albums. However, the manner in which these influences are woven in MC’s style is almost magical. The tempos are a bit more spasmodic and intense than any old Swedish death metal band, with the exception maybe of Afflicted. Robert’s singing is fascinating, he is a truly brilliant performer. I listened to this masterpiece a year after its release and it took me at least another year to find the vinyl version, which includes the brilliant “Obscuritas“, one of the most excellent songs of Swedish death metal.

AMON-Liar-in-Wait5. Amon – Liar in wait (2012)

I properly listened to Liar in wait a year after it was released and my initial contact with it was an awkward one. The song that opens the album is one that still I don’t consider representative of the rest of the songs, in fact I consider it to be the worst on the album. The rest of the songs are monuments of furious old school death metal, where one hyper-brutal riff follows the other without giving the listener any room to breathe. In one word, this album is relentless. The prevalent tempo is the blast-beat, with a few short slower passages and a few slayer-beat sections. The singer has some genuinely brutal vocals and the capacity to sing really fast, albeit the style is quite monotonous. The winning point of this record is definitely the purely astounding riffs. In many cases there is a certain quality to the riffs that is reminiscent of classical music and I often envision them being played by an orchestra. Some bring into mind Deicide‘s Legion, such as the opening riff of “Lash thy tongue and vomit lies” and the second riff of “Semblance of man”. The excellently harmonised manic riffs on “Eye of the infinite” and the riffmageddon on “Semblance of man” and the ABSOLUTELY MIND-BLOWING “Sentience and sapience” are jaw-dropping. The vinyl version comes with a great cover-art and a lyrics inner sleeve. I really hope they will release another album, ’cause this one is a masterpiece.

zt6. Tragedy – Darker days ahead (2012)

Tragedy’s latest album was a bit hard to digest and I have to admit that when it first came out it confused me. Having released three masterpieces of fast brutal hardcore – whereby the D-beat constituted the backbone of almost every melancholic and depressing melody which contributed to the establishment of their unique identity – the considerable slowing down of pace came as a surprise. In hindsight, this album is not that different. Anyone interested in Tragedy will instantly identify Tragedy’s distinctive attitude. It is not even that more miserable than the earlier albums. The main difference is the abandonment of the D-beat. I still find it a bit difficult to listen to, but every time I do I get chills down my spine. “Darker days ahead“, “Power fades” and “To earth like dust” must be some of the best songs ever written.

black7. Black Trip – Goin’ under (2013)

I listened to Black Trip at the end of 2014 and I couldn’t believe my ears. Heavy metal hasn’t been so awesome in decades. Black Trip is the brainchild of Peter Stjarnvind, a brilliant musician who has left his mark on pillars of Swedish metal, such as Entombed (Peter’s contributions among others include the awesome “What you need” and “Night for day“) and Merciless (Peter’s contributions include “Violent obsession” and “Fallen angels universe“). While Black Trip obviously stand on the shoulders of giants, they do so in an inspiring way. The songs of this album are reminiscent of early Iron Maiden (e.g. “No tomorrow“, “The bells”), Saxon and Thin Lizzy (e.g. “Goin Under“, “Radar“), Kiss (e.g. “Putting out the fire“), and Mercyful Fate (e.g. “Tvar Dabla“). The way these songs are being put together, however, is magical. Joseph Tholl is a genius singer/lyricist, Peter’s soulful solos are perfectly complemented by Sebastian’s furious leads, and all the energy is craftily captured and engineered by the competent hands of Fred Estby and Dolf De Borst in Gutterview studios, the new Mecca of Swedish hard rock and heavy metal. (*Some of the lyrics on the song “The bells” are taken from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem of the same name)

3803938. Imperial State Electric – Reptile brain music (2013)

The reason I did not listen to ISE’s latest album when it first came out is that I could not find the vinyl version, so I had to wait until the early 2014. Music-wise, I guess this album picks up where the previous one left off. Nicke has written some of his best tunes so far, like the contagious “More than enough of your love“, the bluesy “Faustian bargains“, the furious “Born again“, which brings into mind another tune Nicke wrote years ago, “I wanna touch” (Hellacopters). “Nothing like you said it would be” draws heavily on Kiss’s first album. One of the exciting things about this album is Nicke’s collaboration with Fred Estby in putting together the song “Dead things”, a dark and heavy song whose atmosphere is reminiscent of their previous collaboration in Necronaut on the song “The tower of death“. It is obviously a fascinating album, yet I can’t help but compare it to the previous two albums which, in my ears are much better. The main thing I disliked about this album is the lyrics, which, compared to the previous two albums, seem a bit rushed.

pentagram19. Pentagram Chile – The malefice (2013)

Pentagram is a band that has been mentioned as an influence by several bands that I worship, such as Napalm Death, Dismember and Entombed. I was also aware that Anton, who replaced Jesse in Lock Up, was Pentagram’s guitarist. That made me look them up a few years ago and I found a video of their awesome demos on YouTube. This album is officially their first ever and has new songs that could have been written in the late 1980s. The style is very similar to Anton’s main band, Criminal, although Pentagram is much less groovy. If anything, this album is extremely addictive, the way albums used to be in the past; full of catchy riffs, choruses and clever yet approachable arrangements. In that sense, what Pentagram do on this album is a lost art. While the vocals and lots of the arrangements are very brutal, the thrash elements are also strong on Pentagram’s sound. “The apparition“, a song that is meant to become a classic, is reminiscent of early Slayer on songs like “At dawn they sleep“. The German thrash influence can be seen on several songs, especially in “Arachnoid”, whose main riff sounds a lot like Kreator‘s “Terrible certainty“. In some ways lots of riffs on this album, like the riff that opens the album, sound a lot to me like Cannibal Corpse. Tomas Lindberg’s vocal contribution on “Sacrophobia” is pretty cool, while I thought that Schmier’s contribution on “Spontaneous combustion” was a hit and miss.



Whatever happened to Lars?

Lars Rosenberg has been part of some of Sweden’s most important bands. However, since his stint with a couple of small rock bands in the early 2000s his whereabouts are unknown to me and information available on the internet fails to shed light to what has become of this great musician.

Carbonized

From left to right, Piotr, Christopher and Lars as seen on the inlay of For the security.

Lars was a founding member of Carbonized, one of Sweden’s seminal brutal death metal bands. He composed music and played the bass in Carbonized’s demos, singles and all three albums. On the first album (For the security, 1991) he played bass, sang and composed most of the music. For the security is a fine example of brutal, grinding Swedish death metal. Lars’s vocals are more shouted and aggressive – something along the lines of Andersson’s vocals on Clandestine – compared to Christopher Johnsson’s super brutal vocals who also sings on the album. What sets this album apart from its contemporaries is the more prevalent grind elements (check out “For the security”, “Recarbonized” and “Hypnotic aim”, among others) and the use of dissonant melodies and weird rhythms (check out “Euthanasia”, “Purified” and “Third eye”). On their second album (Disharmonization, 1993) Carbonized went down a more experimental direction reminiscent of Celtic Frost’s change of character from To mega therion (1985) to Into the pandemonium (1987). Most songs are a big departure from death metal incorporating jazz fusion and progressive rock. Lars’s shouted vocals fit the music perfectly on that album, which is much more twisted, varied and dissonant compared to their debut. Still, death metal is represented in devastating songs like “The voice of the slained pig”, “Nigh shadows” and “Succubus”. On their third album (Screaming machines, 1995) their sound went towards a totally cacophonous mix of jazz fusion and industrial (“Fist” is probably the most conventional song on this album). A quite insane offering that showcases Lars’s varied contribution to extreme music.

Lars1

Lars, on the left, together with Aad and Ron.

In the early 1990s Lars also played with Aad and Ron from Sinister in the group Monastery, that only released some demos and two 7inch records (click here for their brutal e.p. The process – church of the final judgement). Sonically they are pretty unrefined and devastating, something between early Napalm Death and Sinister. Both Lars and Ron sing, and Lars’s vocals are particularly reminiscent of Lee Dorian of Napalm Death.

entombed1

Lars on the front, among the rest of Entombed, looking cool.

As the bass player of Entombed Lars contributed to two cornerstones of Swedish death, namely Clandestine (1991) and Wolverine blues (1993). On the former he co-wrote the music on the mysterious “Evilyn” and the hardcore-charged “Blessed be“, while on Wolverine he was the primary composer of the nowadays cult “Out of hand” and “Blood song“.

In Therion, Lars played alongside his band-mates from Carbonized (Piotr and Christopher) in the album Theli (1996). The latter was an album that took further the experimental/symphonic elements present on Symphony masses (1993) and Lepaca Kliffoth (1995), elements under which Therion’s sound would be totally subsumed in the years to come.

In 1996, Lars played the bass in the debut album of the doom metal band, in the vein of Candlemass, Serpent (Piotr Wawrzeniuk, his band-mate from Carbonized and Therion was also in the band). Listen to the song “Stoned the dawn” off this album here. A year later he played in the debut album of the Argentinian death metal band Mental Distortion.

According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, Lars’s last known band was the stoner metal ensemble Roachpowder, on whose second album he played the bass (listen to “No reason” off this album). Lars’s movement away from death metal towards more conventional heavy rock music was consistent with many of his contemporaries, including Michael Amott (originally of Carnage and Carcass and then in Spiritual Beggars), Nicke Andersson (originally of Entombed and then in The Hellacopters), Fredrik Lindgren (originally of Unleashed and then in Terra Firma), and more recently Peter Stjarnvind (originally of Merciless and Entombed and more recently in Black Trip) and Fred Estby and David Blomqvist (originally of Dismember and now in The Dagger). The whereabouts of this great musician today are unknown to me.



Is this where I came from? #5 Deep Purple and Dismember

In this, the fifth installment of the “Is this where I came from” series of posts I ask whether Deep Purple, an English hard rock band, influenced Dismember, a Swedish death metal band, by looking at a riff that may have traveled 21 years, and the way in which it changed during this journey.

deep-purple-1Deep Purple – Love don’t mean a thing (1974)

Stormbringer is the second album after Ian Gillan’s departure and David Coverdale’s arrival. Although it is definitely not the hard rock/heavy metal cornerstone that In Rock and Machine Head are, I quite like Stormbringer. It is a more laid-back, quite funky (literally) album that showcases Coverdale’s flexible voice and the band’s broad musical range. “Love don’t mean a thing” is one of the more laid back songs on the album, it’s a quite soulful, bluesy song, with some cheesy lyrics about a man who seeks a woman who is rich enough to support him. To my ears, the opening riff does not really stand out. It consists of a lead melody on a blues scale that utilises the hammer-on technique, and an accompanying background melody which is a slightly different version of the lead melody in a lower octave. No distortion is used. The background melody is the one that resembles the riff with which Dismember came up 21 years later.

Dismember+Lineup02Dismember – Casket Garden (1995)

In my opinion, Massive killing capacity is one of the most perfect albums that have ever been recorded. It cannot be denied, however, that it was partially a by-product of the wider trend in death metal for more experimentation after 1993. This trend in itself was partially fueled by record companies who wanted to jump on the “death ‘n roll” bandwagon of successful albums like Entombed‘s Wolverine blues. On their DVD “Live blasphemies” Dismember talk about how Nuclear Blast (their record company back then) pressured them to become more melodic. Indeed, one can detect several hard rock and heavy metal references on this album, such as the Kiss-inspired ending of “Hallucigenia” (listen to the end of Kiss’s “Black diamond“) or the Metallica-inspired “Nenia” (listen to Metallica’s “Orion“). “Casket garden” was written by Richard, Fred and Robert. The opening riff is to a large extent a heavier, more distorted version of “Love don’t mean a thing”. The groove is extremely similar. The main difference is that Dismember don’t follow the blues progression that Deep Purple use. Every third note of the “Casket garden” riff is a pull-off back to the root note (the opposite of the hammer-on that is used between the first and second note). Another point of difference is that through its journey from the hard rock to the death metal logic, the riff was reinterpreted through the use of heavy distortion and the accompaniment of a heavy rhythm section, that contributes to establishing the rhythm the band wanted to convey. The result is a massive riff, at once extremely memorable, uplifting and exciting.



Morbus Chron, At the Gates: Live at the Forum
December 10, 2014, 3:34 pm
Filed under: death metal, gigs, sweden | Tags: , , , ,

AT-THE-GATES-Triptykon-Uk-tourOn Thursday the 4th of December I had the privilege of experiencing live two brilliant bands on the same night, Morbus Chron, which I consider to be the most important contemporary death metal band, and At the Gates, the band that to a large extend defined death metal in the late 90s. Triptykon, the band led by Thomas Gabriel Fischer, leader of Celtic Frost and arguably the father of extreme metal, was also part of the bill as well as the US metalcore band Code Orange.

Morbus Chron‘s setlist consisted of six songs: “Hymns to a stiff” from the first album, “Black orb reverence” from the e.p. and “Towards a black sky”, “Ripening life”, “The perennial link” and “Terminus” from Sweven (2014). The band was casually dressed and wore light corpse-paint around their eyes. They opened with “Ripening life” and they appropriately finished with “Terminus”. Their sound was simply perfect and the songs off Sweven sounded much more powerful than on the album. None of the band members directly interacted with the audience. During the final moments of the closing song, the band members gradually left the stage, leaving Edde by himself contemplatively hitting the last few notes, ending a hauntingly perfect performance.

At the Gates‘ setlist included 18 songs from the entire career, minus the Gardens of grief e.p. They played “Kingdom gone” and “Windows” from the first album, “Raped by the light of christ” and “The burning darkness” off the second one, “Terminal spirit disease” off the third one, “Blinded by fear”, “Slaughter of the soul”, “Cold”, “Under a serpent sun”, “Suicide nation”, “World of lies” and “Nausea” off the fourth one, and “Death and the labyrinth”, “At war with reality”, “The circular ruins”, “Heroes and tombs”, “The book of sand” and “The night eternal” off the new album. The band came on stage while the intro off the new album was playing. They kicked off with “Death and the labyrinth” and finished with “The night eternal”, in a similar way to Morbus Chron, leaving only the Bjorler twins on stage. Their performance was great, Tomas’s voice sounded perfect. A couple of things that annoyed me were that the drums – probably triggered – were louder than the rest of the instruments and that Martin’s guitar was more prominent than Anders’s guitar, which was a shame as Anders is the lead guitarist.

During most of Triptykon‘s performance I was outside drinking and having a bite. Without meaning to sound disrespectful, I would rather mark first year student essays than attending a Triptykon gig. Celtic Frost might have been pioneers and the first four of their albums will always be among my all-time favorite albums, but I don’t like Triptykon. At some point I was lucky to enter the concert space just before the band started playing “Circle of the tyrants“, so that was cool. The atmosphere while Triptykon were playing was how I would imagine a satanic ceremony to be like.

The ultimate highlight of the concert was undoubtedly Morbus Chron’s performance from beginning to end. I consider this band, right now, the pinnacle of death metal. I was really bummed that they did not play more songs. If they had played “Red hook horror”, “Ways of torture”, “Obscuritas” and “Aurora in the offing” I would have ripped my face off and thrown it on stage. Other highlights included the slow middle part off the amazing “The book of sand” off the latest At The Gates album, “Windows”, one of my all time favorite At The Gates songs, and “Terminal spirit disease”. Seeing At The Gates was very significant for me, since they were the second death metal band I ever listened to, after Benediction, and the band for which my admiration has not waned one iota since I first listened to them. I never got the chance to see them the first time around, before their break up in 1996, although I did see the Bjorler twins with The Haunted in Athens in September 1999 – and they played “Blinded by fear”. Of course, seeing the line-up that I first loved (minus Alf Svensson) was a whole new experience. In the end I bought two awesome Morbus Chron t-shirts and totally fan-boyed Edde, Dag and Adam from Morbus Chron.

 



Morbus Chron’s Sweven

I’d been meaning to wait until the end of the year to talk about Morbus Chron‘s new album in the customary post where I evaluate each year’s music offerings. However, as with other albums that blew my mind in the past, I decided to dedicate an entire post to the miracle titled “Sweven”. I seriously doubt that some new album between now and the end of the year will manage to knock “Sweven” off its position as my favorite album of 2014.

morb

Morbus Chron is a Death Metal band from Sweden. Their first album, “Sleepers in the rift” is a Death masterpiece. Truth be told, it would be impossible to hear this album without thinking of “Severed survival”, “Mental funeral”, “Acts of the unspeakable”, “Leprosy” or “Scream bloody gore”. There are riffs in “Sleepers…” that have been almost MORBUS-CHRON-Sleepers-in-the-Riftdirectly lift off Autopsy songs. But that doesn’t make the album any less brilliant. The way these influences have been woven into Morbus Chron’s compositional style, with the excellent performance by the band and clever humorous lyrics, make up a record that can stand proudly next to all the old school brutal masterpieces, such as the aforementioned Autopsy and Death albums. Deformation of the dark matter, the last song off “Sleepers…”, considerably more dissonant and “progressive” than the rest of the songs, anticipates the direction Morbus Chron would take in the future. The follow-up e.p. “A saunter through the shroud” takes further the “progressive” elements that Morbus Chron flirted with on that song. Accordingly, their most recent offering, “Sweven”, doesn’t come as a surprise.

MorbusChron-Sweven-Cover“Sweven” is a unique musical experience. I think it’s the first time I actually think that, finally, there is a band that is a worthy successor of early Dismember, Entombed, Afflicted and At the Gates. “Sweven” is a concept album about life and death. However, existence is presented here in its bare, primordial form, stripped of the ornaments of culture and the fantasies of materiality (the same cannot be said regarding the band’s fantasy of immateriality though). Existence is being disclosed as a continuum of life and death. This is symbolically presented in the manner in which the album begins and ends. The album both starts and ends with the same backmasked clean guitar melody. The resulting incomprehensible melody could signify the elusive state between life and death. Robert’s shouting vocals give a sense of alertness and urgency throughout the album, perhaps signifying that every existential moment is sacred and should be attended to and experienced to the fullest. Edvin has contributed one song on this album (just like in the first album where he wrote the brilliant Red hook horror), the most straightforwardly death metal song titled Aurora in the offing. This song is the closest any band has ever gotten to achieving the magic of Entombed‘s “Clandestine”. All the other songs were composed by Robert. There is great variety in the songwriting. Most songs have long instrumental sections during which melodies are developed and different meanings and emotions are conveyed. While the atmosphere of the album could be described as “dark”, this darkness connotes the need for exploration, rather than desperation. This exploration usually results in things that are revealing and comforting. There is not as much fast tremolo-picking and palm-muting as one would expect from a Swedish death band; there is a wide use of arpeggiated chords, harmonies and some clean guitars. The main melody of Towards a dark sky, realised through a high-pitched tremolo-picked riff, flirts with Black Metal aesthetics. Beyond life’s sealed abode is probably my favorite song. The build-up leading up to the first verse, the melody when the singing starts, as well as the harmony that concludes the first verse verse and contributes in bringing out the vocal interpretation is pure genius. This moment is just one among several simply breathtaking moments on this album; just note the awesome tension conveyed by Robert’s delivery when he sings “to nurse me through birth and adolescence, with my controls set for the heart of the sun”, on Ripening life, and certain melodies, such as one in the middle of The perennial link and the final one in Terminus that concludes the album.

The art that compliments the songs on this album, both cover art and the individual illustrations that accompany each song in the booklet, deserves special mention. Each song is represented visually through a series of magnificent illustrations by Raul Gonzalez. All in all, this album is an absolute masterpiece to the very last detail. With each one of their releases, Morbus Chron keep setting the standards for what extreme music should aim for.



Is this where I came from? #4 J.S.Bach and Dismember

In this, the fourth instalment of the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I discuss the influence of classical music, J.S.Bach’s music in particular, on Dismember, a Swedish death metal band. David Blomqvist, the guitarist of Dismember, was inspired by Bach to compose one of the most beautiful songs in the history of popular music.

J.S.Bach – Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh (1736)

Johann_Sebastian_BachKomm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh translates into Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest and it is a powerful hymn about the anticipation of death and the arrival at the kingdom of heaven written by Bach for solo voice and basso continuo. Although I have loved Bach’s music since my early teens I only recently discovered this monumental piece. This is not surprising since Bach’s music to which I –  being a guitarist – have mostly been attracted is his Lute suites. Although I think that each person interprets works of art in slightly different ways, I would say that in this piece, the mood that Bach envisioned for someone who longs for death is one of absolute acceptance and resolve. This mood is also reflected in the text. The deeply religious text that accompanies this piece is, according to Wikipedia, attributed to an anonymous author:

Come, sweet death, come, blessed rest! Come lead me to peace for I am weary of the world, O come! I wait for you, come soon and lead me, close my eyes. Come, blessed rest! 

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! It is better in heaven, for there is all pleasure greater, therefore I am at all times prepared to say “Farewell,”. I close my eyes. Come, blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! O world, you torture chamber, oh! Stay with your lamentations in this world of sorrow, it is heaven that I desire, death shall bring me there. Come, blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! Oh, that I were but already there among the hosts of angels, out of this black world into the blue, starry firmament, up to heaven. O blessed rest!

Come, sweet death, come blessed rest! I will now see Jesus and stand among the angels. It is henceforth completed, so, world, good night, my eyes are already closed. Come, blessed rest.

The video that follows is an adaptation of the piece for Organ by Virgil Fox. It is this specific rendition that resembles “Life another shape of sorrow”, the song written by Dismember.

Dismember – Life, another shape of sorrow (1995)

DismembermkcDismember has always been my favorite death metal band. Dismember’s style developed at the same time that Entombed’s career was taking off and, because of that, Dismember has many times been seen as the “poor person’s” Entombed. I have always objected to this somewhat popular perception of Dismember’s identity and contribution to popular extreme music. For starters, I do not think that Entombed created something radically new; I do not think that such a thing as radical innovation exists. Entombed defined the Swedish death metal scene to the extent that they were undoubtedly brilliant and got picked up by an up-and-coming extreme record label (Earache), facts that led to early recognition and placement in an influential position. However, at the same time, they developed their style in close proximity with dozens of other death metal bands that existed at the time. Entombed members were not only close friends with Dismember members but also lived and practiced in close proximity to each other. Thus, I think that their styles developed in tandem rather than separately. Moreover, Dismember was a band that always had unique elements in its sound that distinguished it from its peers. Even on the debut album, but in a more pronounced way on the sophomore album, there are melodic moments and harmonies that originated in classic rock/metal and classical music.

The song “Life, another shape of sorrow”, composed in its entirety by David Blomqvist, comes from Dismember’s third full length masterpiece (Massive killing capacity) and constitutes a prime example of Dismember’s distinctiveness. The brooding intro with the melancholic melody on top of a powerful minor chord progression very similar to Bach’s piece gives way to a section of more up-beat riff followed by redemptive harmonies in the vein of Iron Maiden. This section leads to an explosive tremolo-picking riff supported by a fast Slayer kick-snare beat. The lyrics, sung from the point of view of a person who longs for death, are sung on top of this frantic section which proposes a very different mood than the one crafted by Bach. Here, again, the desire to die is the result of vast pain and hopelessness. Dying is seen as the reasonable action in the context of a life of absolute suffering. However, while in Bach’s case the sufferer seems to be at peace with their desire to live no more, in the case of Dismember, the sufferer appears to be in agony. In the chorus, Matti Karki, the singer of Dismember, screams at the top of his lungs, “Come sweet death, let me sleep forever”. The fast tempo and soulful vocal delivery once more suggest that the person who desires to die is tormented and exhausted from living. The genius harmonised scale played on top of the words “let me sleep forever” adds extra emphasis on the experience of pain associated with living. A brief slower section momentarily interrupts the powerful emotion of hopelessness, perhaps in favour of some time to re-assess and maybe give life another chance, but quickly any hope for the value of living is discredited when the band goes back to the fast tremolo-picking section and a sorrowful guitar solo. The song closes with a repetition of the introductory section, this time played by the Organ, and a narrator saying the words, “Come, sweetest death. Come, blessed rest. And take my hand, and gently lead me on”.